Lambing season left blighted as deadly Schmallenberg virus

Farmers fear livestock crisis after thousands of animals killed by Schmallenberg disease

Tens of thousands of lambs have been stillborn or deformed throughout Britain as a result of the deadly Schmallenberg virus, with the industry bracing itself for what could be a blighted lambing season.

In infected flocks the rate of lamb loss has been between 25 and 30 per cent on average, according to the National Farmers Union livestock chief, who has lost 40 per cent of the lambs from his early breeding flock to the emerging virus. Schmallenberg has been reported on more than 1,200 farms across the country, but there are fears the disease is being under-reported and that the Government is not taking the threat seriously enough.

Although there are hopes that many later-lambing ewes, which make up the majority of the national flock, have escaped infection, farmers warn that losses on a similar rate throughout the lambing season would plunge the sheep-farming industry into “crisis”.

“Farmers need a good lambing season to avert a crisis,” Robin Milton, the NFU’s Uplands chairman who keeps 700 ewes on Exmoor, Devon, said. “It’s a fragile state of affairs. If there was even a five per cent loss, in some flocks, that’s the profit for the year gone.”

Sheep farmers are already struggling with falling lamb prices and the after effects of last year’s poor weather. Farmgate prices for lambs have dropped by a quarter and the wholesale price is down 17 per cent, but the price for lamb on the shelf has dipped only two per cent, leaving farmers to pick up the deficit.

Schmallenberg first appeared in eastern England more than a year ago, but is now believed to have spread to every county in England and Wales. The virus, which originated in Germany and is thought to have spread in infected insects blown across the Channel, causes abortions and birth defects in livestock. Cattle farmers also fear the virus could affect this year’s calves.

Uncertainty over the damage Schmallenberg might cause has led to calls for the Government to accelerate development of a vaccine, which is not predicted to be released on to the market until next year. Defra is still treating Schmallenberg as a low-priority, non-notifiable disease, meaning that farmers do not have to report cases of it, which has led to fears the Government may be underestimating its true extent.

Charles Sercombe, the NFU’s livestock chairman, who keeps 2,000 ewes near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, has lost 40 per cent of his early breeding pedigree Charollais flock to Schmallenberg – a financial loss of £12,000 to £15,000. “This is a very new disease,” he said. “We’re all learning about it as we go along. The uncertainty is making farmers apprehensive as we look towards the March and April lambing season. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed that the impact will be lower than in the earlier flocks.”

The virus is spread by midges, mosquitoes and ticks and although an infection to a ewe or a ram does not necessarily mean offspring will die, early losses have raised concerns that the disease’s impact could be greater than first feared.

The Government anticipates that later lambing flocks will be less vulnerable because later-breeding animals may have had time to develop natural immunity to the virus. “It would be useful if the Government did everything they could to make the vaccine available,” Mr Sercombe said. “Confidence in sheep farming is at rock bottom. The safest option is to give us the vaccine to protect our flocks.”

A Defra spokesman said: “It’s extremely distressing for any farmer whose flocks have been affected by Schmallenberg – particularly those who have seen a greater impact on their sheep and cows.”

Schmallenberg: how the disease spreads

Schmallenberg virus is an emerging livestock virus that originated in Germany and has been detected in Belgium, the Netherlands and now the UK.

It is transmitted by vectors such as midges, mosquitoes and ticks. It is believed the disease arrived in the UK carried by midges blown across the Channel.

The virus can cause late abortion or birth defects in newborn sheep, cattle and goats as well as diseases such as milk drop, pyrexia and diarrhoea in adult cattle. It is not a notifiable disease, meaning that farmers do not have to report it, but they are advised to contact a vet if they encounter symptoms in their livestock.

There is a low likelihood of any risk to public health.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music

Animal welfare charities have urged the boy band to cut the scenes

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin married in Venice yesterday
peopleAmal and George Clooney 'planning third celebration in England'
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley at the premiere of Laggie at Toronto Film Festival 2014
theatreActress 'to make Broadway debut'
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Focused Business Analyst - Finance and Procurement System Implementation

£350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reading are...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM - A high q...

Head of ad sales international - Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you the king or Queen o...

Note Taker - Scribe

£10 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experienced note taker...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker